So here we are, another month and another episode in the System Builders guide. I hope these are as useful to you as they are to me, because keeping track of how much people expect to pay or charge for technology these days helps me figure out how much something is actually worth from a price/performance standpoint. Today we’re theoretically shopping around for a new tower in the R8500 and R11,000 ranges and I’m hoping that there’s a few bargains to be found here. At this price point, its the starting line for performance-focused buyers who don’t necessarily have to consider the price of hardware, only that it gives them the performance they’re paying for. Lets see what’s in store for you, then.

Since my AMD versions of the guides I’ve had little feedback with regards to the kinds of systems one could pull together for this amount of money. I regularly see systems with FX processors and single or even dual graphics setups that easily perform as expected, but the focus is all on Intel. Rightly so, considering that the high-end is home to the Core i5 and i7 chips, both monsters that chew through anything you throw at them. With the introduction of Ivy Bridge it’s become less of an option to choose an FX processor, so I’m assuming that the only people buying those chips are fans, die-hard loyalists to the brand or peeps dissatisfied with the lack of overclocking options available on the Intel platform.

Here things change on the graphics side as well, with a shift almost immediately in the minds of many enthusiasts from AMD back to Nvidia in the high-end market. With the GTX660Ti just around the corner if rumours are proved right, the R8500 lineup will be sporting that card in future, assuming a retail price of around R3000. Its going to be a killer for AMD’s sales numbers and one wonders how the company will handle the transition to a more efficient version of Graphics Core Next in the HD8000 series, due out around February next year if my clock is right. As it is now, the engineering team is screwing over the driver team’s hard work in the drivers and BIOS while trying to match performance with AMD. Only time will tell which manufacturer wins out – its clear now that AMD is in need of a seriously good PR manager and marketer. Can anyone bring Steve Jobs down from heaven, please?

Also note that as solid state storage drops, so you can expect these two lineups to be the default starting points for storage as 256GB drives in the coming months. OCZ’s Agility 3 240GB currently goes for prices as low as R1900 in some places, giving Sandforce a last hurrah with the brand before the Indilinx controllers take over the market again. At the very least, 64GB or 128GB drives will be considered in today’s lineups as boot and game drives, although 240GB is a much more comfortable amount to work with.

R8500 Budget

Intel Core i5 3570K @ R2311

ASRock Z77 PRO4-M @ R1200

TEAM Xtreem Elite Silver DDR3-1600 8GB @ R394 (Holy cheese and crackers, that’s cheap!)

Gigabyte Radeon HD7850 2GB DDR5 @ R2624

Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB @ R654

LG GH24NS90 @ R169

SilverStone ST60F-ES @ R665

Antec One S3 @ R508

Total: R8525

Lower prices all round contributed to a few changes in today’s build. Of note is the K-series Core i5 processor slotting in nicely where the non-K version usually sat. The Asrock motherboard is a revamped version of the popular Pro-4, now in “M” guise and looking suspiciously like a much cheaper ASUS Rampage Gene variant. The retention of the front panel USB 3.0 ports, rotated SATA connectors and redesigned heatsinks give this board a recommendation from me, especially considering that low price point.

The RAM pricing also dropped and TEAM brought in some sexy low-profile coolers to match their value-for-money kits. DDR3-1600 kits normally start off with CL9 timings so this is pretty much bottom-range speeds, but there’s not much reason to use higher performance modules unless you’ll be doing some benchmarking or need the extra bandwidth. The temptation was there to stick a HD7870 in, but that would have meant going way over budget. Besides, given the close competition from the HD7850 when overclocked, there’s not much reason to choose the more expensive GPU while dumbing down your component choice elsewhere. I also upgraded the power supply in anticipation of some high overclocks to me done on a machine like this, while Antec’s One S3 remains the de facto choice if you’re looking for a chassis with good cooling and native front-panel USB 3.0 ports.

R11,000 Build

Intel Core i7 3770 @ R3066

GIGABYTE Z77X-UD3H @ R1879

TEAM Xtreem Elite Silver DDR3-1600 8GB @ R394

Club3D Radeon HD7870 2GB DDR5 @ R3354

Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB @ R654

LG GH24NS90 @ R169

SilverStone ST60F-ES @ R665

Antec One S3 @ R508

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo @ R326

Total: R11,015

Man, that’s a total change-up from June’s build at the same price point. Not only do we get a Core i7 processor, an aftermarket cooler and a Radeon HD7870 into the mix, but I’ve also thrown in what’s regarded as the best overclocking motherboard in the world, bar none. Neo’s review of the board in this month’s The Overclocker says as much and its well worth picking up, even if you’re only concerned about game performance.

Overall, its a machine geared not just towards gaming, but also for those looking to squeeze extra performance out of every component. I didn’t want to limit myself with a SSD so its not in here either. In the end, game and application performance is more vital and the only way you’d make it work is by dropping to a Core i5 3570K and losing the cooler to fit in a 128GB model. You’d still get great gaming performance, but multi-threaded apps that can use more than four threads will show a performance drop. That said, SSDs make performance deficits almost nonexistent thanks to the improved loading speed, low seek times and extremely fast read and write speeds. Definitely consider going this route if you’re looking for something that fits better in terms of all-round performance.

That’s all for this week folks. Tune in for the final episode this month with the über high-end setups. Expect some surprises for that one next week Tuesday.

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